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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 30, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 13
Brutal Raid a coldly calculated thriller - with VIDEO trailer
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Brutal Raid a coldly calculated thriller - with VIDEO trailer

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Raid: Redemption
Opening March 30


A lot of people are doing cartwheels over the bizarrely titled The Raid: Redemption (I get why it's called 'The Raid,' it's the 'Redemption' part that makes no sense) and it's easy to see why. Seldom do I sit in a movie theater feeling my chest lump up into my throat. Rarely do fisticuffs and intricate fits of martial arts mayhem make me audibly cringe right into the center of my seat. This movie had me shrieking. This movie had me yelping. And, by the time it was over, I felt as bruised and battered as its beleaguered hero, almost wishing the publicist had brought along a stretcher so I could be wheeled out on it instead of walking into the sunlight on my own accord.

But while the Indonesian import is light years better than writer, editor and director Gareth Huw Evans and fight choreographer and star Iko Uwais' freshman effort Merantau, it's still far from perfect, and for all the intensely insane hand-to-hand action pyrotechnics the story holding it all together is so threadbare and nonsensical it might as well not even exist. The filmmakers do little with the purposely simple premise, instead running on clich├ęs in hopes the audience will be distracted by all the visual audacity, pumping up the volume and accelerating the action to hide a scenario barely worth the effort.

I'm nitpicking, of course, and considering how I usually tend to be a sucker for this sort of thing I should be doing somersaults. One part Rio Bravo, another Assault on Precinct 13, the movie is a hardcore martial arts rock 'em sock 'em adult playground filled with moments too pugnaciously awesome to even attempt to describe. Like watching classic Jackie Chan, I found myself repeatedly wondering how the heck they pulled off stunt after stunt, people flipping, falling, and flying all over the place to the point where the line between what was done physically and what was aided by either wires or CGI (or both) becomes practically nonexistent.

The plot? A team of elite, specially trained police officers is tasked to covertly enter a massive apartment building lorded over by the brutal Boss Tama (Ray Sahetapy) and bring him back, dead or alive. Highly skilled rookie Rama (Uwais) realizes something is wrong early on, and the only reason he survives after his team is discovered in the building is because his unit's headstrong commander Jaka (Joe Taslim) orders him to fall back and provide protection for his fellow rookies.

I'm sure you can figure out the rest from there. Jaka and two others manage to make it out of the initial melee alive, while Rama bravely protects a fallen comrade, also a rookie, promising to get him out of the building no matter what. Tama sends his two best killers, the unimaginatively named Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) and the mysterious Andi (Doni Alamsyah), to ferret out the survivors, while also offering lifelong rent-free sanctuary to any of the building's tenants who bring him the heads of the intruding policemen. Rama must go from floor to floor to floor trying to complete his mission and to make it out of this rundown hellhole alive, engaging in a series of never-ending battles with a variety of opponents as he does so.

The thing is, even with a premise as basic and as simple as that, it feels like Evans couldn't care less about trying to make something interesting out of it. All he seems to care about is how many bodies will hit the floor, how many attackers Uwais, Taslim, and the others can take on before exhaustion leads to their demise. Sure, he throws in a random plot twist regarding one of Tama's lieutenants, but he telegraphs the darn thing so clearly that I can't say it comes anything close to a surprise. Worse, it's so matter-of-fact, so one-dimensional, that any chance for an emotional investment in the characters or their plight due to this revelation never happens, the movie remaining dramatically at arm's length for its duration.

All the same, I can't be too hard on the film. Magnificently shot by Matt Flannery (who also lensed Merantau) and superbly edited by the director, Evans understands how to make his action scenes sing in a way that feels intimate and new. He loves long takes, allowing all of Uwais' stunning fight choreography to crackle and sizzle, and as I already stated, sitting in the theater I felt like every blow, strike, and kick was smacking across my body and face the same as up on the screen.

Had Evans spent as much time making Rama, Jaka, Andi, and the others interesting characters, had he exerted a little effort building up their relationships and making what happens to them matter, maybe I'd be willing to put this movie on the same pedestal as those aforementioned Howard Hawks and John Carpenter classics. But The Raid: Redemption never quite connects on anything more than a purely visceral level, leaving me frustratingly cold.

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